More UCLA and USC women’s crew? There’s gotta be a way to see it on the new Pac-12 Network that launches Wednesday.
Take it to the bank: When the spankin’ new, multi-tiered Pac-12 Network flips the switch Wednesday at 6 p.m. from its San Francisco studios, it’ll do more than just print money for its dozen members.
In the sports media business lingo, it’s built to be one of those game-changing moments: A conference takes a calculated leap of faith by running its own TV and Internet platforms, delivering specific athletic events into home-team markets.
Prepare to be dazzled, says commissioner Larry Scott.
“This is going to be a major change in terms of the national exposure
and recognition our conference gets,” Scott has proclaimed, noting that, for starters, the days of regional football broadcasts on Fox or ABC are “gone.”
“The studio is already busy, the edit rooms are busy, the digital people are busy – there’s a palpable pregame buzz,” said Gary Stevenson, the president of Pac-12 Enterprises, which runs the television networks.
“When Ronnie Lott (one of the networks’ studio analysts) was just here, he said it felt like right before a Super Bowl to him. We’re ready to show the world what we’ve got.”
It’s barely more than a year after Scott officially announced the plan on July 27, 2011 to generate this ground-breaking media business model.
Its foundation is in six regional channels – including one in Los Angeles for USC and UCLA programming. The other five cover Arizona, Oregon, Washington, the Bay Area (Stanford and Cal) and the Mountain regions (Utah and Colorado).
Time Warner Cable, Cox, Comcast and Bright House cable systems are already signed up and have those channels as part of the basic package.
TWC, which has 40 percent of the Southern California cable market covering two million homes, has the L.A. regional on basic cable channel 370.
As in most recent TV network launches, there are some final arm-twisting involved to get everyone on board, usually precipitated by viewer demand and the ability to find space on the channel menu, while the cost-per-subscriber cost is taken into consideration.
DirecTV and Dish Networks, as well as AT&T and Verizon Fios have not yet been able to come to an agreement yet, but representatives of each say discussions are ongoing and something could come soon.
Photo courtesy Devin Pense/Pac 12 Network
Host Mike Yam rehearses with analysts Rick Neuheisel and Glenn Parker before the Pac 12 Network launch in the San Francisco studio.
“To my knowledge, I’m not sure there’s been another network that has had three of the top five distributors at their launch,” said Stevenson. “The goal is to make it available to all Pac-12 fans. At end of the day we feel we’ve got great content and that carries the day, not just in quantity but in real quality.”
In addition, one national Pac-12 channel will also be available to areas outside the conference footprint, much in the way the five-year-old Big Ten Network functions. TWC has that Pac-12 national channel as well, but on a Sports Pass tier.
The Pac-12 footprint is said to be able to cover some 48 million possible homes. To handle questions about distribution, the Pac-12′s relaunched website – pac-12.com – has links to something called IWantPac12Networks.Pac-12.com.
The Pac-12 Network is different from the Big Ten initially in that it doesn’t have a shared ownership and a start-up mechanism provided by Fox, and a there will be a greater variety of platforms offered.
With what it terms as a “TV Everywhere” element, PC and iPads delivery will happen soon, with iPhones and Android coming down the road.
“I do admire what the Big Ten has done, and how Mark Silverman has led that development, but I do think there are advantages from doing something like this from scratch,” said Stevenson.
What will force most TV partners to finally relent in one way or another is when college football games locked into the Pac-12 Networks schedules start arriving, and viewers begin complaining every which way possible that they can’t see them.
At least 16 games are Pac-12 Net property in the first four weeks, including UCLA’s game against Houston from the Rose Bowl on Sept. 15 and USC’s meeting with Cal from the Coliseum on Sept. 22 – two games that more often than not would have been available on Fox Sports West or Prime Ticket.
Every Pac-12 school will have made at least one appearance by week four. USC, Oregon and Stanford have five scheduled appearances during the season on the network.
A Thursday night double header on Aug. 30 of Utah vs. Northern Colorado and Arizona State vs. Northern Arizona will be the first test case. Week 1 games also include Stanford vs. San Jose State, Cal vs. Nevada, Oregon State vs. Nicholls Stat e and Washington vs. San Diego State.
Some will be head-to-head kickoffs, meaning the region can pick which games to air live and which will be tape delayed.
Eventually, USC coach Lane Kiffin expects all conference fans to be in tune with what’s happening.
“There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Pac-12 Network, especially the fact that it broadens the league’s viewing base on a national level,” said Kiffin.
“It is a huge plus to have so many events in every sport, not just football, receive exposure on the Pac-12 Network’s various platforms, whether you are a fan, a parent, a recruit, a coach or just a channel-hopper who happens upon the network.”
UCLA football coach Jim Mora has added that the networks “provide a window for a nationwide audience to experience the excellence of our member schools, both on and off the field, on a regular basis throughout the year. We have always had a compelling story to tell and now we have the vehicle in place to deliver it.”
The Pac-12 Networks were able to happen after Scott negotiated a new $3 billion, 12-year deal with Fox and ESPN last spring to carry 44 football and basketball games nationally each year.
According to reports, each member school nets an extra $30 million a year for their budgets because of that media deal, which many have already used to pay higher salaries to new big-name coaches – including Mora.
But Scott also used that infusion of cash – a reported $50 million to $100 million — to get this Pac-12 Network in motion. Member schools didn’t have to contribute any money, and in fact could make an estimated $10 million more down the road in potential advertising with just this venture.
The conference will lock in 35 more football and basketball game telecasts a school year, with the three network partners taking turns picking contests they want each week. It essentially assures every home football and men’s basketball game will be on TV somewhere.
The glamor events will continue to be exclusive access to certain football and basketball games, but the bulk of the Pac-12 Network coverage will be on the Olympic-centric sports that are often not covered, even by school-supported video streaming.
Nice timing on that – the Pac-12 reports that with 45 medals collected by 239 conference-affiliated athletes at the London Summer Olympics, it would have been fifth in the final medal standings. Overall, the conference had 255 athletes, coaches and officials representing 44 countries in 18 sports in London. Some 121 were on the U.S. team.
And many of them competed in women’s sports, which will have equal play in Pac-12 Network exposure as the men’s sports.
For example, the first live event of an estimated 850 contests per year: A women’s soccer match between Stanford and Santa Clara on Friday afternoon.
Programming on Day 1 for each region will be a live introductory studio show, a replay of last year’s first conference football championship game between Oregon and UCLA, and an overall 2012 football preview show.
“The reason we will be successful is the way we’re structured with content and having the resources to do it well,” said Scott.